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Another week, another must-win game.
Seven days after the Vancouver Whitecaps got off the schneid with a 1-0 win over Sporting KC, they’re back in BC Place in another big-stakes game. The opposition: fervid rivals, the Portland Timbers.
“I would say it’s another must-win,” said Caps head coach Vanni Sartini. “We say that every time that we need to build our run at BC Place and so there’s always pressure when we play at home to make points. Then it’s also one of our local rivals, it’s a Cascadia derby, so there’s also this added flair to that.
“And the fact that — of course, we’re very early in the season — but they have two points more than us, so if we win, for at least a week, we are way ahead of them. It’s always a good thing to some objective that is very close to us to gain.”
Portland Timbers (1-2-3) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (1-3-1)
Saturday, 7 p.m., BC Place. TV: TSN. RADIO: AM730
That single-step mentality of focusing on what is in front of them allowed the Whitecaps to claw out of a chasm last season, but it didn’t deliver much in the way of results in the early going of 2022. The victory over KC was the first of the year for the Caps (1-3-1), and while it eased the pressure, only improved their standing from 13th out of 14 teams in the Western Conference.
But the team right in front of them on 12th just happens to be this weekend’s visitors, and a win would have their ascent up the West standings. The Timbers (1-2-3) have yet to win away from Providence Park in two games this season, and their home results haven’t been much better, getting Chicharito’d by the LA Galaxy in a red-card-studded 3 -1 affair last weekend.
Ryan Raposo’s winner last week has been the only goal scored at BC Place this season, with the Caps shutting out SKC and holding defending champion NYCFC to a 0-0 draw.
But the Timbers were the last team to win at BC Place against Sartini — a Ranko Veselinovic own goal was the difference in their Sept. 10 meeting — with Vancouver going 6-1-2 in 2021. Add in this year’s results, and the Caps are undefeated in eight games in The Dome since then (6-0-2).
It also marks the 100th all-time meeting between the clubs, across five different leagues, with the Caps holding a 42-39-18 advantage in the series.
Sartini expects a vocal traveling contingent from Portland to come north for the game, especially with border restrictions having been eased.
“It’s always beautiful when we play those derby against Portland and Seattle, so I really look forward to it,” he said. “The Timbers are a team that they don’t play high-rhythm football but they have quality players that, in a moment, find somewhat that can make you pay for your mistake. When they win the ball, they play fast to the guys up top… and they can be really, really, really dangerous in that.
“So what we need to do is, first of all, don’t give away balls in dangerous area, be always balanced and try to be … like almost the same as Kansas City — very, very aggressive. We need to defend as high as we can because the less they are in our house, the less dangerous they are.”
The Caps were far stouter in Saturday’s game than any of their previous matches, and the return of Brian White to the lineup had no small part to play in that. His manner of relentless pressing against KC keyed the players behind him, and any purposeful buildup Sporting had, fizzled out in the final third.
But the Caps haven’t been lighting the world on fire either, ranking last in the West in expected goals, and ranking last overall in shots-on-target, their total of seven just half of the next lowest team (DC United, 14). White’s absence has been keenly felt, despite the solid play of Lucas Cavallini in his stead.
“I think just being a little bit sharper, a little bit cleaner the final third,” White said when asked about the team’s offensive output. “There were moments last game where if we were a little bit sharper, we get better chances and that just comes with time and getting the reps in on the training field.
“We turned that one around. It was a good win away from home, it was a fun road trip.”
NOTE: Neither White nor Ryan Gauld made it the full 90 minutes last week as they returned from injury, and Sartini indicated that both would be on reduced minutes this week as well … Caio Alexandre and Erik Godoy are both still out long-term, and Tristan Blackmon — who left last week’s game bloody and concussed — is still going through the league’s concussion protocol.